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Philip Seymour Hoffman Earns Raves for a Most Wanted Man – Will he be honored Posthumously?

Because he never turned in a bad performance and was one of the best actors America has produced, if Philip Seymour Hoffman were still alive Oscar attention would be paid to his last performance released in theaters, A Most Wanted Man. Hoffman’s been earning raves  and the film has already made $7 million at the box office.  So we have to wonder whether the Academy, or the Screen Actors Guild, or the HFPA will honor Hoffman posthumously as a way of paying tribute to the dearly departed actor.

Of course, Best Actor is traditionally the most competitive category behind Best Picture. In a recent poll, AwardsDaily readers picked the following for the top five:

Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Joaquin Phoenix, Inherent Vice
Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner
Benedict Cumberbatch – Imitation Game

I don’t know if I agree with your police work, there, dear readers. Two of five of these I’ve seen and believe them to be near-locks. I’d bet the bank on Keaton getting in.  Phoenix and Cumberbatch are the sight unseen performances and it’s never wise to go with those until people start seeing them.  Always start with what you know. In terms of Hoffman, his performance is a known:

The LA Times Kenneth Turan:

The last we see of Philip Seymour Hoffman in “A Most Wanted Man,” he leaves his car and walks out of the frame. As it tragically turned out, he was exiting his acting career as well, and this taut, involving thriller, the late actor’s final starring role, is a fitting film for him to leave on, not only because it is so expertly done but because his role was so challenging.

Even for as brilliant a chameleon as Hoffman, a hefty man who won an Oscar for convincing us he was elfin Truman Capote, making us believe he was Günther Bachmann, a German intelligence officer, had to be one of the most demanding roles in a lifetime full of them. Even John le Carré, whose novel is the film’s source material, wasn’t sure he was up to it.

“For the first few minutes of listening to him, I thought ‘Crikey,'” the novelist wrote in a New York Times essay. “Then, gradually, he did what only the greatest actors can do. He made his voice the only authentic one, the lonely one, the odd one out, the one you depended on amid all the others.”

Not only is Hoffman at the top of his form here, the rest of the cast, including Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, German stars Nina Hoss and Daniel Brühl and Russian Grigoriy Dobrygin, have committed themselves fully as well.

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone:

The late Philip Seymour Hoffman will show up again onscreen in the supporting cast of the next Hunger Games. But the last full-scale Hoffman performance – and it’s a master class in acting – comes in A Most Wanted Man, Anton Corbijn’s tense, twisty and terrific spy thriller, based on John le Carré’s 2008 novel. Hoffman, who died in February, plays Günther Bachmann, a German intelligence operative. Since 9/11, Günther has been heading a small-scale spy unit that tracks the Muslim community in Hamburg, where the attack on America was formulated.

Erik Kohn, Indiewire:

Above all, there’s Hoffman. Through passing references to an earlier incident that overshadows his career, and glances of him hitting the bottle, “A Most Wanted Man” gradually fleshes out the character’s background. There are hints of his repressed sexuality and heavy loneliness, but much remains up for interpretation. Hoffman embraces the opportunity with the same relish he brought to cryptic schemers in “The Master” and “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” among many other brilliant performances.

Manohla Dargis, New York Times:

Mr. Hoffman’s performance is so finely etched — and the story so irresistible — that the film becomes, almost inescapably, something of a last testament.

One of the things to remember about Best Actor is that it is almost always tied to Best Picture.  Not always, of course, but often the film with the most Best Picture heat generally will land a lead acting nod. And lately, that’s been mostly male.

But if we’re not talking Best Picture—>Best Actor, one does consider other circumstances, and in Hoffman’s case, there’s a definite possibility that the combination of deserving performance and paying tribute to his massive contribution to cinema could make a dent in the Best Actor race.

When it comes to winning the Best Actor prize, it is almost always tied with a Best Picture nominee.  Since 1970, 35 out of 40 Best Actor winners were in a Best Picture nominee, give or take a name or two, but it’s fairly significant. Since Oscar changed up to more than five Best Picture nominees, only one – Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart – won without a Best Picture nomination.  What usually makes the difference is a contender’s overdue status. That is usually the only thing that can trump Best Picture heat.

So, to my mind, for Hoffman to have a fighting chance, two things would need to be in play. The first, overdue status. Hoffman won Best Actor for Capote so there might not be an urgency to give him a win. But we’re really only talking about a nomination here, not a win. So having a posthumous nomination for such a treasured actor is not outside the realm of possibility, even without a Best Picture nomination.  The second thing would be, obviously, a Best Picture nomination or any ensemble nomination from SAG.

In terms of nominations, since 1970, roughly 114 (counted myself, so give or take) out of 200 nominations were nominees in Best Picture contenders. It is by no means a dominating factor. Best Actor and Best Picture became more linked in later years, beginning in the 1980s and up to now. Last year, all five Best Actor nominees were in a Best Picture contender.

Given all of these considerations, the power of Hoffman’s work, his stature and his legacy, one either noted his dominating presence in this race for Best Actor or considers oneself asleep at the wheel.

It’s a hard thing to deal with Hoffman’s death vis a vis something as sickening as the Oscar race. That’s a given. But if you’re here and you’re reading this you already know that this is our job here at AwardsDaily.  Few things make the Oscar race worthwhile. Occasionally they make a difference in the world – and can certainly make the difference in someone’s career.  It would be an even bigger shame if Hoffman weren’t considered simply because he is not here to do the required dog and pony show all actors have to do now.

What do you think, Oscarwatchers?